More than 8 million people have been affected by the devastating floods in Sindh province, Pakistan. Many people believe that the destruction caused is the result of a natural calamity but others strongly argue that this destruction is the result of the decisions made by those in power. They say that decisions were taken by the powerful that adversely hit millions of people. There is a big debate in the media and political circles in Sindh about who is responsible for this terrible and widespread destruction.
The huge controversy has developed around the breaches made in the levees and embankments on the Indus River and on major canals. According to irrigation experts and some bureaucrats in Sindh, the decision to make breaches in the right bank of the Indus R caused great destruction that could have been avoided. According to these commentators, breaches should have been made on the left Bank and water diverted into the Hakra River. They claim that during 1976 floods, which were bigger than the 2010 floods, breaches were made on the Left Bank and it caused very little damage compare to the 2010 floods (According to experts, the diversion of floodwaters towards Hakra River would have affected nearly 0.2 million people). At the moment, no one is taking responsibility for the breaches on the right bank of the river.
Why breach the Indus left bank?
Many people are alleging the three big feudal lords and religious leaders in Sindh put pressure on the authorities not to breach the left bank of the river to save their land estates and properties. Some are also alleging the military generals also put pressure on the authorities not to breach the left bank to save the Pannu Aqil cantonment. Two federal ministers from the PPP government and the leader of one of the factions of the right wing of the PML-F party have been accused of main responsibility for the decision, in order to secure their estates. The only city that might have been affected by breaching the right bank was Khairpur, which is also the constituency of Chief Minister of Sindh province. He also played an important role in the decision to breach the left bank.
Experts are saying that on technical grounds the best action was to breach the left bank of the river at Ali Wahn. They argue that more water flowed through the barrages at Ali Wahn during the 1976 floods, without damaging these barrages. They claim that the breach at Ali Wahn meant that flood waters channel through the vacant bed of the ancient River Hakra. There is no water here and people have started to live on the bed. This bed goes through the less populated areas of Khair pur, Noshero Feroz, Nawab Shah and the Sanghar districts of Sindh province. The floodwaters going along this path would eventually enter Achro desert. This is was the route of the floodwaters in 1976. Some experts state that if the waters had been directed through the Hakra into the desert in 2010, the loss of life could have been reduced to the minimum. Poor farmers and peasants in the desert would have been benefited from the water and could have cultivated their lands for at least twenty years. There is an acute shortage of the water in these districts. Instead the flood water was diverted to areas which already had enough water, with devastating consequences.
Why not the right bank?
There is as big population living on the right bank, with many cities, towns and big villages. These areas are known for rice crop s and the latest crop was almost ready for harvest when floodwaters hit. It was the first time that the authorities decided to breach the right bank and a ‘cut’ was made at Tori embankment near Kashmore. After this breach, the floodwaters headed towards Jacobabad City. When the waters started to threaten the air base in the city, the authorities decided to make cuts in the main highway to direct the waters towards Baluchistan. The ex-prime minister, a prominent politician of Baluchistan province, publicly accused the PPP federal minister and the big feudal lord, Jakhrani, for this breach and cuts. He alleged that the federal minister inundated vast area of Baluchistan to save his own estate and lands. Some people are also pointing fingers at the authorities that tried to save the air base and by doing so drowned hundreds of thousands of people. These areas never been flooded before and have no experience of dealing with such a situation. The local feudal lords and administration also made a mess of the situation. The waters passed along the right side of Jacobabad and entered Baluchistan province. After covering vast areas of Baluchistan, the waters again entered Sindh and covered more cities, towns and villages. This time the water passed by the left side of Jacobabad. The local feudal lords and provincial ministers tried to save their lands and constructed new embankments and levees to stop the flow of the floodwaters. For instance, the PPP provincial minister, and a big feudal lord of the Shadad kot district, refused to allow the breach in his area and even stopped the natural flow of the water to save his own lands and constituency. The floodwaters started to swallow and increased to dangerous levels. The increased pressure of the waters breached the weak embankments and inundated the nearby areas. The water headed towards Hamal Lake and into the MNV drainage system. Hamal Lake started to overflow and more areas went under water. Every local feudal lord and influential politicians tried to stop water entering into their area. The level of the floodwaters again increased and flooded the Dadu district and nearby areas. The main tide of floodwater was 18 kilometers wide and 12 feet high and destroyed everything it its way. The waters entered Manchar Lake (one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia) and many people thought the flood was over but that was not the case. Another provincial minister and PPP leader refused to allow a breach in the embankment of the lake to release water. The water continued to enter the lake and reached dangerous levels. The weak embankments of the lake failed to sustain the water pressure and breached different areas. The water inundated more than 150 villages and three towns in the Dadu district. Now, finally, the water has started to enter the Indus River and into the sea.
All this terrible destruction did not happen in a day or a two, but over more than five weeks. During this whole period no state official intervened to stop the feudal lords and influential politicians making criminal decisions. When this flood started it was undoubtedly a natural disaster but later the powerful of Pakistan turned this into a human-made disaster. It is estimated that 17 districts, 8 million people and hundreds of thousands of acres of land have been affected due to the decisions made by the handful of feudal and local officials. They have destroyed the lives of millions of the people to save their own landed estates and property. Most of these feudal lords belong to the so-called ‘pro-people’ Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). The PPP leadership is defending the feudal lords and denying any wrongdoing concerning the breaches. The Provincial PPP government has refused to establish an independent commission to probe these allegations and accusations.
Hameed Chanah, Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI) Sindh